Sports have been embedded into our popular culture for so many years there are a few hard and fast rules that the modern-day sports fan can always rely on. The month of March will always come with a side of Madness; thoroughbreds will always be running for the roses on the first Saturday in May; the UFC will always be a little “red-necky”; and the Atlanta Falcons will never win the Super Bowl. Also, even though baseball is an old sport that has a long history of superstitions, one maxim will always hold true for LSU fans — the sky is always falling over Alex Box stadium.
LSU baseball, and its passionate fan base, is always prime time drama.
You might be one of the many who doesn’t pay attention to college baseball. Most folks don’t and, even as unfathomable as that is to me, I understand. For whatever reason, as fans, we’ve decided that we’ll eat and sleep football all year, catch some hoops in March and that’s enough. But, even if that’s your modus operandi, I would bet you a dollar to a doughnut (or a buck to a beignet?) that you know at least a couple of die hard, decked out in purple and gold, sitting at the bar staring at the TV on a Tuesday night, Bayou Tiger fans who could care less about something called the NBA Finals — unless the baseball game has ended in victory for the boys from Baton Rouge. It is nothing short of a hardcore love affair.
The Big Cats
Why not? It’s a team deserving of continual adulation. The LSU Tigers keep producing at a phenomenal pace. Ask a Tiger fan to name their last losing season and they’ll just start laughing at you. They don’t lose. “Smoke” Laval resigned as head coach in 2006 because LSU had a losing conference record. Lavall was coming off of four 40-win seasons and two College World Series appearances. What do you think would happen in Baton Rouge if LSU posted a record like Tulane did this year? The horror. The horror…
Here’s a fun fact: LSU has 107 wins in regional and superregional games. Not only does no other Louisiana team come close (Tulane has the next most wins at 36) but in total, every other team combined has only recorded 106 victories. Also, no other Louisiana team has a winning record in the NCAA regionals let alone an astounding .759 win percentage when the chips are truly down.
Winners win when it’s go time and LSU proved it once again this week in the SEC tournament as the Tigers took their sixth SEC tournament title in 10 years. LSU stormed through Hoover, Alabama, whipping Kentucky and South Carolina back-to-back by the “10-run rule,” before handling a tough Arkansas club 4-2 in the championship. For their efforts, LSU was rewarded with the four seed in the NCAA regionals and will play every game at home until, if everything goes according to plan, they head to Omaha for the fifth time under Coach Paul Mainieri.
But don’t forget, the sky was falling earlier this year. “We lost games to TCU and Texas Tech in March.” The sky is falling. “We lost to UNO and Tulane!” The sky is falling. “We lost a series to Florida.” The sky is falling. “We posted a 40-win season, won the SEC tournament, have won 11 games in a row, swept Auburn, Mississippi State and Maryland (all tournament teams), and the sky is falling.” You get the picture. I guess when everything is going really, really well it’s just fun to create some drama.
LSU kicks off its latest run to Omaha this Friday, June 2, against Texas Southern. LSU will also possibly run into the only other Louisiana team that bothered to make the NCAA regionals, the Southeastern Louisiana Lions. Southeastern can’t be feeling that great after going 0-2 in the Southland tournament. The Lions will play the Rice Owls in their first game. Keep an eye out for the Owls this weekend. They’re one of the few teams in college baseball who won’t be intimidated by the LSU Tigers. Or maybe that’s just me thinking that the sky is falling.
And the rest…
The sky did fall on a lot of other NCAA regional dreams in Louisiana this week. There’s no reason to go into Tulane’s problems, I’ve put enough ink on that digital page, but let’s just say the tournament played out exactly like the entire season. On the other hand, even though they won’t be in the NCAA regional, the UNO Privateers did reach the semi-finals of the Southland conference before falling to eventual champion, Sam Houston State. It was another solid campaign for the Privateers who are building a solid program on the lakefront.
More surprisingly, were the flameouts by McNeese State and Louisiana Tech. The Cowboys entered the Southland tournament as the number one seed only to lose two tight games and adios NCAA dreams. Louisiana Tech, who seemed like a lock for the tournament two weeks ago, would end the season dropping a series to a bad Middle Tennessee team and never being a threat in either of their two Conference USA tournament losses. I hear Ruston is beautiful this time of year.
The NCAA bubble is always brutal and if you’re living on it what was once solid can disappear right under your feet. Such was the case of the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun dreams for tournament glory. The Sun Belt, like many other conferences, got hit with some rain that scrapped and rescheduled some games. Yet, the rain and field conditions were so bad in Statesboro, Georgia that the Sun Belt had to go to a single-elimination format and the Ragin’ Cajuns lost their first game 7-6 in extra innings to Georgia Southern and, just like that, another bubble popped.
Like many an Uptown street, the road to Omaha is a rough one.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Gnarly Barley Brewing’s “Jucifer” IPA
Playlist Recommendation: Sheryl Crow – “Every Day Is a Winding Road”